Slim pickings for January Books Read (But Not Reviewed) – just two books and, unusually for me, both are non-fiction. Regular readers will know that this blog is all about recommendations – books I’d be happy to give to a friend – and indeed I did give this one to a friend for her birthday and bought a copy for myself at the same time. John Lewis-Sempel’s Meadowland, is a year’s worth of observations of a slice of meadow on his Herefordshire farm. I loved the idea – still do – but as you may have gathered, it was far from an unalloyed joy. The problem is over-writing, florid phrases of the type which need a good trim. No lilies left ungilded, here. I prefer my nature writing in the Kathleen Jamie style: nice and spare. That said, it taught me things I didn’t know and for that I’m grateful.
Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, however, comes with a wholehearted recommendation. Life expectancy has rocketed over the past few decades yet most of us are hopelessly unprepared for ageing, choosing instead to see our final years as pleasantly free of work, pursuing new interests and spending more time with family and friends before quietly dying in our sleep. The reality is far more likely to be a long slow decline which we will need help to negotiate. Gawande is a surgeon who decided to explore how we cope with ageing after observing what happened to his American wife’s grandmother who had no plan for dealing with infirmity and comparing it with his own grandfather’s declining years spent with his extended family in India – far from always the idyll we might like to think and even when it is, now becoming more of a rarity as India’s economy flourishes. He explores the current solutions on offer including some inventive and original approaches, later extending his investigation to palliative care for those suffering from a terminal illness bringing both together in a moving case study of his father’s last years living with cancer and how the family dealt with it. His emphatic conclusion is that we need to listen to those dear to us when they tell us how they want to live as they become more frail and know what it is we want for ourselves in the same situation. It’s a humane, compassionate book but I was very glad of a rare few sunny days as I worked my way through it.